Howdy, pardners! If you’re worried that David is hogtied to a railroad track or doing time in the pokey, rest assured he’s not—David is still very much the author and owner of Precocious Curmudgeon. In his typically gracious fashion, however, David offered me a temporary place to hang my five-gallon hat after I left PopCultureShock and lit out for the territory. Most of my reviews will focus on manga, though I may share thoughts on noteworthy music, movies, and books as well. I’m very honored to be David’s guest and promise not to sully his good name.
As you might have guessed from that cornpone introduction, I recently finished the first volume of Yu Yugami’s Go West! (CMX), a high-spirited adventure from the creator of Those Who Hunt Elves, Dokkoida?!, and Hikkatsu! (Looking at that list of titles, I’m beginning to wonder if Yagami’s editor is inordinately fond of emphatic punctuation marks. But I digress.) Go West! tells the story of Naomi, a plucky teen on a mission to find the parents from whom she was separated eighteen years earlier. With few clues to guide her search, Naomi rides west, where she believes her parents intended to settle. Naomi’s efforts are helped and hindered by a colorful assortment of characters, from Gunman, a taciturn bounty hunter who takes his fashion cues from Clint Eastwood, to Red Bullet, a horse incapable of deviating from a straight line, cacti and buildings be damned.
Yagami’s vision of the American West is pure Hollywood. His towns look like stage sets, with swinging-door saloons and dusty Main Streets, while his landscapes resemble the Monument Valley—all that’s missing is a howling coyote. The very fakeness of the setting actually works in favor of Go West!, as it suits the story’s cartoonish, hyperbolic tone. It also grants Yagami license to mix-and-match genre conventions, as he borrows plot points and character types from blaxploitation and kung-fu movies.
Those characters are both an asset and a liability to the story. Naomi, for example, often comes across as a shonen hero in drag, as she’s brash, determined, and astonishingly naive to the point of seeming dim-witted. Yet her can-do spirit and sheer gutsiness are welcome attributes in a female lead; Naomi radiates confidence and purpose, inspiring others to follow her example.
Naomi’s flamboyant bodyguard Mingo Bomber, on the other hand, is primarily defined by his appearance—an unfortunate decision on Yagami’s part, as Mingo is the only black character in the story. Yagami doesn’t give Mingo much to do except dispatch a few bad guys and announce that Naomi is his long-lost sister. That joke is beaten into the ground, yet never yields a single laugh; it’s both tasteless and toothless, and serves little dramatic purpose other than underscoring the characters’ racial identities. (In one of the series’ more bizarre anachronisms, Naomi claims to be from “the Far East.” Students of American history may remember that nineteenth-century statutes explicitly banned Asian women from entering the United States as a strategy for deterring Chinese immigration.)
The artwork is also a mixed bag. Yagami shies away from screentone, preferring spidery line work and bold, black patches to delineate space and objects. Most of the time, his approach works beautifully, yielding clean layouts that give his characters room to breathe. His fist-fights and shoot-outs, however, would benefit from a more judicious and varied use of tone to transform the tangle of lines and unidentified flying objects into body parts, bullets, breaking chairs, etc. so that the reader can make sense of what’s happening.
As with Yagami’s other work, Go West! is often more frantic than funny, with characters fussin’ and fightin’ and repeatin’ themselves, seldom to good effect. Yet Go West! has undeniable charm. Yagami grasps an important truth about the West: it’s not a place or a time period but a state of mind, a stage on which seekers and scam artists alike act out their dreams. However anachronistic or limited his characters may be, they hanker for a better life, know the value of camaraderie, and display true grit when circumstances demand it. Sounds like a Western to me.